President Obama Wednesday signed the Continuing Resolution, effectively authorizing funding for government operations until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Despite the long lists of amendments and standing provisions in the Ag Appropriations bill tucked inside the CR, there are several notable changes that will affect agriculture.
Sequestration. By passing the bill, Congress allowed sequestration to stand, resulting in an across-the-board reduction in funding for most federal programs by 5.2%. Additionally, the CR includes a 2.5% cut in discretionary spending that USDA will have to carry out before the end of FY13.
Research. Funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative was increased by $10 million, now funded at $274.8 million. As a discretionary program, however, AFRI will be subject to USDA's 2.5% reduction within the next six months. Appropriations for research at land-grant universities will still be funded, though it will be cut by 7.61%.
Conservation. Conservation groups touted restored funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program, but expressed disappointment that it reduces the cap on acreage enrolled in the program this year by 740,000 acres. Following the reduction, the Natural Resources Conservation Service will enroll only 12 million acres in the program in FY2013.
Regulatory. An amendment introduced by Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., that postpones the enforcement date for the Environmental Protection Agency's Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures specifications was included.
The SPCC would have required that oil storage facilities with a capacity of over 1,320 gallons make structural improvements to reduce the possibility of oil spills. The plan requires farmers to construct a containment facility, like a dike or a basin, which must retain 110% of the fuel in the container.
The rule is now postponed until the end of FY13 on Sept. 30, and ASA recommends adjusting the minimum capacity upward to 10,000 gallons.
Biotechnology. Section 735, what some activist groups call the "Biotech Rider," was included. The language says farmers may continue to plant seeds bearing traits that have been deregulated by USDA without threat of disruption to marketing or cultivation as a result of court decisions.
According to ASA, the provision addresses the potential for protracted delays in commercializing new traits pending court-ordered environmental impact reviews. Section 735 only applies to biotech traits that have completed the required regulatory review process, and does not restrict the right to challenge USDA's determination that a trait does not pose a plant pest risk, ASA notes.
Livestock and food. Finally, ASA applauds an amendment to shift funding within USDA to avert furloughs for meat inspectors.